1

People and ecosystems

Understanding of the links between coral reef ecosystems, the goods and services they provide to people, and the wellbeing of human societies.

2

Ecosystem dynamics: past, present and future

Examining the multi-scale dynamics of reefs, from population dynamics to macroevolution

3

Responding to a changing world

Advancing the fundamental understanding of the key processes underpinning reef resilience.

Coral Bleaching

Coral Bleaching

Coral Reef Studies

ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
James Cook University Townsville
Queensland 4811 Australia

Phone: 61 7 4781 4000
Email: info@coralcoe.org.au

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New research into the impact of climate change has found that warming oceans will cause profound changes in the global distribution of marine biodiversity.

In a study published in the journal Nature Climate Change an international research team modelled the impacts of a changing climate on the distribution of almost 13 thousand marine species, more than twelve times as many species as previously studied.

The study found that a rapidly warming climate would cause many species to expand into new regions, which would impact on native species, while others with restricted ranges, particularly those around the tropics, are more likely to face extinction.

Professor John Pandolfi from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at the University of Queensland says global patterns of species richness will change significantly, with considerable regional variability.

“This study was particularly useful because it not only gave us hope that species have the potential to track and follow changing climates but it also gave us cause for concern, particularly in the tropics, where strong biodiversity losses were predicted,” says Professor Pandolfi.

“This is especially worrying, and highly germane to Australia’s coral reefs, because complementary studies have shown high levels of extinction risk in tropical biotas, where localized human impacts as well as climate change have resulted in substantial degradation.”

To model the projected impact of climate change on marine biodiversity, the researchers used climate-velocity trajectories, a measurement which combines the rate and direction of movement of ocean temperature bands over time, together with information about thermal tolerance and habitat preference.

They say the analysis provides the simplest expectation for the future distribution of marine biodiversity, showing recurring spatial patterns of high rates of species invasions coupled with local extinctions.

Professor Elvira Poloczanska from CSIRO says, “This study shows how climate change will mix up biodiversity patterns in the ocean. Ecological communities which are currently distinct, will become more similar to each other in many regions by the end of the century”

Dr David Schoeman from the University of the Sunshine Coast says the model suggests that there is still time to act to prevent major climate-related extinctions outside of the topics.

“Results under a scenario in which we start actively mitigating climate change over the next few decades indicates substantially fewer extinctions than results from a business-as-usual scenario,” Dr Schoeman says.

“Possibly more worrying, though, is the imminent development of novel biotic assemblages. We have little idea of how these new combinations of species in ocean systems around the world will affect ecosystem services, like fisheries. We should be prioritising ecological research aimed specifically at addressing this question.”

Professor Pandolfi warns the resultant novel combinations of resident and migrant species will present unprecedented challenges for conservation planning.

“Above all, this study shows the broad geographic connections of the effects of climate change – conservation efforts need to be facilitated by cooperation among countries to have any real chance of combating the potentially severe biodiversity losses that a changing climate might impose.”

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Paper

The paper, Climate velocity and the future of global redistribution of marine biodiversity by Jorge Garcia Molinos, Benjamin S. Halpern, David S. Schoeman, Christopher J. Brown, Wolfgang Kiessling, Pippa J. Moore, John M. Pandolfi, Elvira S. Poloczanska, Anthony J. Richardson and Michael T. Burrows is published in the journal Nature Climate Change http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2769

Contact
Professor John Pandolfi, j.pandolfi@uq.edu.au, +61 (0) 400 982 301
Professor Elvira Poloczanska, Elvira.poloczanska@csiro.au, +61 (0) 428 741 328
Dr David Schoeman, dschoema@usc.edu.au, +61 (0) 423 982 898
Eleanor Gregory (media), eleanor.gregory@jcu.edu.au

An international team of scientists has used the 23-million-year fossil record to calculate which marine animals and ecosystems are most at risk of extinction today.

In a paper published in the journal Science, the researchers found those animals and ecosystems most threatened are predominantly in the tropics.

“Marine species are under threat from human impact, but knowledge of their vulnerabilities is limited,” says study co-author, Professor John Pandolfi from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at the University of Queensland.

The researchers found that the predictors of extinction vulnerability, geographic range size and the type of organism, have remained consistent over the past 23 million years.

As such, they were able to use fossil records to assess the baseline extinction risk for marine animals, including sharks, whales and dolphins, as well as small sedentary organisms such as snails, clams and corals.

They then mapped the regions where those species with a high intrinsic risk are most affected today by human impact and climate change.

“Our goal was to diagnose which species are vulnerable in the modern world, using the past as a guide” says study lead author, Assistant Professor Seth Finnegan from the University of California Berkeley.

“We used these estimates to map natural extinction risk in modern oceans, and compare it with recent human pressures on the ocean such as fishing, and climate change to identify the areas most at risk,” says Professor Pandolfi.

“These regions are disproportionately in the tropics, raising the possibility that these ecosystems may be particularly vulnerable to future extinctions.”

The scientists say that identifying the regions and species at greatest risk means conservation efforts can be better targeted.

“We believe the past can inform the way we plan our conservation efforts. However there is a lot more work that needs to be done to understand the causes underlying these patterns and their policy implications,” says Asst. Professor, Seth Finnegan

Co-author, Dr Sean Anderson from Simon Fraser University, British Columbia adds, “It’s very difficult to detect extinctions in the modern oceans but fossils can help fill in the gaps.”

“Our findings can help prioritize areas and species that might be at greater risk of extinction and that might require extra attention, conservation or management – protecting vulnerable species in vulnerable places.”

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Paper

The paper, Paleontological baselines for evaluating extinction risk in the modern oceans by Seth Finnegan, Sean C. Anderson, Paul G. Harnik, Carl Simpson, Derek P. Tittensor, Jarrett E. Byrnes, Zoe V. Finkel, David R. Lindberg,Lee Hsiang Liow, Rowan Lockwood, Heike K. Lotze, Craig M. McClain, Jenny L. McGuire, Aaron O’Dea, & John M. Pandolfi., is published in the journal Science

Copies of the paper can be accessed at: http://www.eurekalert.org/jrnls/sci/

 Contacts

John Pandolfi, j.pandolfi@uq.edu.au, +61 (0) 400 982 301

Seth Finnegan, sethf@berkeley.edu, +1 (951) 452-2759

Sean Anderson, sean_anderson@sfu.ca

Paul Harnik, paul.harnik@fandm.edu, +1 (717) 358-5946

Eleanor Gregory, (Communications), eleanor.gregory@jcu.edu.au, +61 (0) 428 785 895

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Coral Reef Studies

ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
James Cook University Townsville
Queensland 4811 Australia

Phone: 61 7 4781 4000
Email: info@coralcoe.org.au